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'Outrageous': Biden condemns new Georgia law as a 'blatant attack' on voting rights

Top Democrats and advocates have harshly criticized the restrictions, which include a ban on giving food and water to voters in line, signed into law Thursday night.
Image: Joe Biden Holds First Press Conference As President
President Joe Biden answers questions during the first news conference of his presidency at the White House on March 25, 2021.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Friday condemned the sweeping new voting restrictions in Georgia as "outrageous," "un-American" and "Jim Crow in the 21st Century."

"This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience," Biden said in a statement.

In comments to reporters as he departed the White House for the weekend, Biden expounded on his criticism, calling the law an "atrocity" and lambasting a provision that makes it illegal to take food or water to voters in line.

"If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they pass a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote," the president said. "You don't need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can't provide water for people about to vote. Give me a break."

Biden's remarks comes a day after Republican lawmakers pushed through drastic changes to the state's election process that were immediately signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

The 98-page law outlaws providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote and adds additional voter ID requirements to mail voters and shortens state runoffs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the law "despicable" Thursday night.

"Since 2012—the GA GOP has closed more than 200 polling places. Voters in mostly Black precincts now wait 8X LONGER to vote than voters in mostly white precincts," he wrote in a tweet. "Now the GOP makes it a crime to give water to people standing in long lines THEY CREATED."

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight, said in a statement Thursday that the law was "blatantly unconstitutional" and "nothing less than Jim Crow 2.0."

The law also gives the state legislature far more control over county-level election administration, by allowing them to appoint the chair of the State Election Board, which can step in and takeover county election administration.

“S.B. 202 will allow for a hostile takeover of local boards of elections, if the Georgia legislature — filled with politicians — doesn’t like the outcome of the elections. It’s anti- Democratic, it’s un-American,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said on MSNBC Friday.

Warnock was elected alongside Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in a pair of runoff races in the state in January.

The ban against “line warming,” or taking food, gifts, money, and drink to voters in line, ostensibly aims to prevent electioneering. In practice, it could make it hard for voters to withstand long lines, which extended for 10 hours in some places in Georgia last year.

"It’s literally been a key component of our voter protection work," Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, told NBC News in an interview Friday, who said groups like hers as well as churches and synagogues routinely bring "comfort" to voters in long lines.

"Pizza, water, portable cell phone chargers, umbrellas — all of that has been part of the work that we do, because of the extraordinary long lines that voters, particularly voters of color, have to endure," she said.

The New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group that aims to register and engage new voters, is suing state election officials over the law. Ufot said the group will continue to pressure the corporate donors of state Republicans to oppose this law, which she said makes it harder for those corporations' employees to vote.

Kemp championed the new law as “common sense” on Thursday, aligning himself with former President Donald Trump and boasting that he called for investigations into voter fraud last year.

Trump falsely claimed the election in 2020 was marred by fraud after President Joe Biden won the state, flipping it blue for the first time in decades. He pressured Republican election officials to investigate and dismissed their claims that the election was secure and that the results were accurate. State Republicans championed his claims, the questions they prompted, and used both as justification for many of the changes in the legislation.

In a statement, Trump congratulated "Georgia and the Georgia State Legislature on changing their voter Rules and Regulations."

The bill includes quite a few changes to Georgia's election process, such as:

  • Adds a second required Saturday of early voting across the state, and two optional Sunday early voting
  • Mail-in voters must include their driver's license identification number or other documentary proof of identity with the application and ballot.
  • Drop boxes can be located only inside election offices and early voting locations, curbing their usefulness. They are only available during those office or polling site hours of operation.
  • Runoff races will be shortened from nine weeks to 28 days
  • Required early voting in a runoff race is shortened from three weeks to one week
  • Reduces the application window for absentee ballots from six months ahead of an election to 78 days
  • Fines non-government groups that send absentee ballot applications up to $100 per duplicate application processed by the state
  • Stipulates that voters who cast a ballot outside of their precinct but within their county will not have their vote counted unless it is cast between 5 p.m. and the time polls close on the day of the election. Voters must also sign an affidavit explaining why they are unable to reach their correct polling place prior to polls closing. Previously, voters could cast a provisional ballot outside their precinct for certain offices

In his Friday statement, Biden called on Congress to enact federal voter protections to prevent what he said amounted to "Jim Crow in the 21st Century."

“It must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act," Biden said.

CORRECTION (Friday, March 26, 5:01 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated a change to Georgia's early voting hours. Local officials can still extend those hours to 7 p.m. if they choose; counties are not limited to the new standardized hours of 9-5 p.m. They are, however, limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.